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One-fourth of San Francisco teachers lack full credentials, grand jury finds

Teacher Ariel Krietzman prepares a lesson for her students at Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8 Community School on May 18, 2023. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

The San Francisco Unified School District’s teacher shortage is a matter of “urgent” public concern, according to a report issued by a city civil grand jury Thursday. 

The grand jury investigation found that almost a quarter of teachers in San Francisco public schools during the 2020-21 school year were not fully credentialed and deemed 10% of teacher assignments “ineffective.” 

Staffing shortages are plaguing schools across the nation. Still, the Bay Area and California employ on average more credentialed teachers than San Francisco does, according to the report.

The grand jury identified a few key factors contributing to San Francisco Unified School District’s dearth of credentialed teachers: low starting salaries, a failure to publicize competitive benefits and a protracted payroll snafu that left staff paychecks and benefits riddled with errors still requiring costly outside help

The starting salary for a newly credentialed teacher is currently listed at $63,000 on the district’s website. But when the report was being compiled, the district’s $54,000 starting pay was one of the lowest entry-level salaries among all Bay Area school districts. It was also 40% less than the federal definition of “very low income” for families in the region. 

Though the district’s pay isn’t as competitive as many other regional districts, the grand jury report found that San Francisco Unified School District does provide teachers with attractive benefits. The district is one of only 17 in the Bay Area offering lifetime retirement benefits. However, the grand jury reported, this benefit and others—such as city homeownership programs for teachers—are either not featured in recruiting materials or have not been effectively promoted. 

Data-Driven Management Is Needed

The civil grand jury also expressed concern that the district doesn’t gather recruiting and human resources data commonly collected by other public education entities. The group also noted reluctance from administrators to cooperate with the investigation.

“Transparency is a vital component in addressing a problem as urgent as the shortage of credentialed teachers, with nothing less than the effective education of San Francisco’s students on the line,” the report read. “A more data-driven and forthright management culture would only help the district’s efforts to recruit and retain credentialed teachers.”

The district agreed that it would ideally fill its classrooms with credentialed teachers, but it uses state waivers to hire underpermitted educators due to the national teacher shortage. It also noted challenges it faces, like the budget deficit, pandemic fallout and a “disruptive new payroll system” that administrators say they are working hard to fix. 

“None of these are excuses, but a recitation of the realities of our school district that the superintendent, administration and Board of Education are attempting to address,” said spokesperson Laura Dudnick in an email. “We believe we are on the right path to steering SFUSD into a vibrant future. There have been, and there will be, bumps along the road. But we are proud of the teachers, staff and administration of our district and believe strongly in our ability to achieve exceptional outcomes for our students.”

Though the report lamented a lack of data kept by the district, a 2009 independent study found that San Francisco schools lose strong applicants due to its hiring practices, such as sending offers just weeks before the start of a new school year. Both the 2009 study and 2023 grand jury report recommended improvements to the district’s human resources department.

The ongoing payroll disaster, which came after the reporting period detailed in the civil grand jury report, exacerbated the issue

An Ongoing Challenge

Hiring fully credentialed teachers, and keeping them, will likely remain a challenge for the district. 

Of the 500 classroom vacancies for the 2023-24 school year, 278 had been filled, The Standard reported earlier this month. That’s up from the 450 classroom positions that needed filling in San Francisco public schools the previous year.

The civil grand jury recommended, beginning in the 2024-25 school year, that the superintendent prepare annual public reports on the district’s efforts to recruit and retain credentialed teachers, compare salaries with federal affordable housing income limits and other Bay Area districts, and promote its competitive benefits. The district should also analyze reasons why credentialed teachers don’t accept its job offers and why teachers leave its schools. 

The body also recommended that Mayor London Breed request, by October, a public report fully analyzing the district’s implementation of its faulty payroll system and incorrect tax withholdings.

The grand jury requested that the superintendent, Board of Education and mayor respond within 2-3 months.